Consistency helps Kernan make up for lost Armagh time
Tony Kernan is preparing for an eighth championship campaign with Armagh but it's only in the last two years that he's been able to find sufficient traction to make an impact.
For the first five years, since joining an Armagh squad that his father Joe had just stepped away from as manager, he was a peripheral figure, a game here, a game there, rarely two together from the start.
In all, he started just three games, including the 2008 Ulster final replay against Fermanagh, and was introduced as a substitute in nine more.
But in the last two seasons he has trebled his starts, four in 2013 and another five during last year's progressive championship run. He wouldn't want it that way, but Crossmaglen's relative decline in Ulster has had a positive spin-off for him.
In years where they progressed to All-Ireland semi-finals and finals, Kernan invariably found himself playing catch-up in the summer.
"It is difficult when you are away for six months. You come back in, someone is playing well in your position and you can't get in," he reflected.
"Jamie (Clarke) and Aaron (Kernan) got their places because they are two of the best players in Ireland and would get on any county team, while the rest of us would have to work harder."
Kernan came into an Armagh set-up that had taken six of the previous nine Ulster titles and they quickly added a seventh in 2008. The decline after that, he feels, came from players allowing standards to slip.
"The players have to ship a lot of responsibility. There were standards there from the great players. They had standards in training and everything that they did - maybe we didn't adopt those standards. We fell by the wayside."
He never played for Armagh while Joe was in charge, but three of his brothers, Aaron, Stephen and Paul, were in the squad. Now he is 'last man standing', Aaron's retirement last year a surprise to many but not to him.
"I was sitting with him on the bus to every game and I knew what he had in his head. I would have liked him to hang around for another year. I miss him going to training and I miss him going to matches.
"I wasn't overly surprised, because I could see it coming. You can see why other people were surprised," he acknowledged.
Looking back on last year's campaign, Kernan doesn't feel the controversy over the melee in the Athletic Grounds for the Cavan game, as the teams were taking their places for the parade, had the galvanising effect many assumed it had for the rest of the season.
"It's easy to say now that it brought us together but if we had been beaten, the next day it would have been called a distraction.
"There's two ways you can look at it, but it was possibly a distraction as well. There are different instances in games that you can look at that show if the team is in the right place and I'm not sure if I would pinpoint that incident and say it was a big impact. Things had been turning and the standard and preparation had been improving."
Kernan had a couple of opportunities to land long-range frees at the end of the Donegal All-Ireland quarter-final, but they fell short and triggered a few regrets.
"They hang around for a wee while, but it's not something I would lose a huge amount of sleep over. Free-taking is a responsibility I take upon myself and it is something I enjoy. I will continue to do that.
"It was an opportunity missed, but we can look at numerous chances in the game that we missed.
"Plenty of people have missed high-profile kicks and bounced back so hopefully I can do the same."